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The BurmaNet News: July 14, 1999

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
 "Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: July 14, 1999
Issue #1314


13 July, 1999 by Aung San Suu Kyi 



RANGOON - The democratisation process in Burma can be accelerated if the
international community -- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(Asean) in particular -- increases pressure on the military regime.

The junta continues to frustrate the will of the people by refusing to
honour the results of the 1990 parliamentary elections, which the
opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide
(obtaining 392 of the 485 parliamentary seats).

Human rights activists and many NLD members and supporters are languishing
in Burmese jails while the junta, which calls itself the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), continues to harass, intimidate and repress
pro-democracy advocates.

We in the opposition cannot allow any authoritarian government to hijack
the elections and are determined to continue with our struggle.

We believe that support from Asean -- which comprises Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos and Vietnam and which Burma
recently joined -- is crucial to our quest for democracy.

If Asean can persuade or put pressure on the present regime to convene the
Parliament that was elected by the people, this could be the first step
towards democratisation.

While some countries are very active in helping hasten this process, the
Asean countries are not. Indeed, quite a few Asean governments -- though
not the public -- justify not helping by invoking the argument that
democracy is a Western concept and that Asian values must be upheld.

We do not accept the notion that democracy is a Western value. To the
contrary, democracy simply means good government rooted in responsibility,
transparency, and accountability. No authoritarian system can assure good
government because there is no accountability. The government can get away
with whatever it does.

Asean also invokes the principle of non-interference with the internal
affairs of member-countries, though not with a clear conscience. Rather,
they are afraid that there may be some aspects of their countries that
might invite criticism. Our position is that if they have problems that
invite legitimate criticism, let there be criticism. If not, they have
nothing to fear.

Because of its policy of non-interference, Asean has rejected calls from
other governments outside the region to nudge the Burmese government into
allowing greater freedom for its people.

Instead, it has opted for a non-confrontational "constructive engagement"
stance in relation to Rangoon. This has not worked.

This policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping. In this
day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.

For example, many Asean countries are investing in Burma. Is that not
interference in our internal affairs? How can they say they will get
involved in economic matters but not in politics.  Economics and politics
are unquestionably closely related.

Foreign investment has provided Burma's military junta with legitimacy and
propped up the regime. Among Asean countries Indonesia is the biggest
investor in Burma and was its strongest supporter during the time the
military regime sought international respectability through gaining
admission into Asean. It is time for a new initiative on the part of the
Asean members to impress on the junta the need to open a dialogue with the

Asean members must recognise that it is the military regime that is being
inflexible and not the NLD, as the government's propaganda asserts. We have
bent over backwards to make dialogue possible.

But the military regime does not want dialogue because they think that
dialogue would be the beginning of the end for them. That would not be the
case, because real dialogue should be acceptable and beneficial to
everybody, including the military regime.

The military's current position of simply clinging to power by instilling
fear among the people through force is not good for the country or for
them. A negotiated settlement is a far better option for everyone. 


16 July, 1999 by Roger Mitton 


They say form is temporary, but class is permanent. The form of Myanmar's
major political party, the National League for Democracy, has been erratic
of late. The party, founded amid the country's bloody 1988 upheavals,
experienced its zenith in a glorious election victory two years later. It
won 392 of 485 seats, 81% of the total. But the military regime wanted a
new Constitution put in place before it would let the NLD assume power. Ten
years later, that document is as elusive as ever. As is the likelihood of
the NLD forming a government. Still, the party's secretary-general, Aung
San Suu Kyi, remains steadfast and indomitable. She refuses to dance to the
rattle of the generals. The lady is class. 

And in a class of her own. Suu Kyi looks increasingly in peril of
isolation. On a personal level, her husband Michael Aris tragically died in
March without being able to see her again. Their sons, Kim and Alex, have
both visited her but have now left Myanmar. Her two staunchest diplomatic
allies, U.S. charge d'affaires Kent Wiedemann and British ambassador Robert
Gordon, both recently left Yangon. "We don't know if she will strike the
same personal rapport with their replacements," says a fellow Western
diplomat. Meantime, Suu Kyi is ever more reliant on NLD colleagues. Yet
there, too, she has met stress. Two years ago vice chairman Kyi Maung,
arguably the party's most revered leader after Suu Kyi, left the NLD over a
dispute that neither side will discuss. Like her, he attended Wiedemann's
farewell bash, but they did not speak. Told that some people feel the loss
of a tough but loyal foil has weakened her own political judgment, Suu Kyi
says tersely: "If they mean U Kyi Maung, he was not my key adviser." 

It is hard not to conclude that her only key adviser is herself. The
remaining members of the party's central executive committee are aging
ex-military men. Her most visible chum is vice chairman Tin U, a former
general who worked closely with ex-dictator Ne Win. Now a fervent democracy
advocate, he is a lovely man but viewed by some as rather flaky. That
leaves the division heads and MP-elects. Even here, there are signs of
turbulence for Suu Kyi. Recently, a group broke ranks and issued a
statement calling for a new tack in dealing with the regime. They were
promptly branded as traitors by Suu Kyi loyalists. Others say they are a
sincere group of exasperated partymen who just want to find some way to
break the deadening impasse between party and junta which has long prevailed. 

The alleged ringleader of the group, Than Tun, 49, a businessman who was
elected from a constituency near Yangon, has been detained several times by
the regime. He first upset the mainstream NLD leadership in 1996 when he
and an MP colleague, lawyer Thein Kyi, 47, queried why the party had walked
out of the national convention that was drafting the new Constitution. Says
Than Tun: "I objected openly, partly because we had no plan about what to
do after the walkout. Suu Kyi shouted at me." Later that year, the same duo
refused to endorse a party mandate that only Suu Kyi and chairman Aung Shwe
were empowered to act on behalf of the party. The two "rebels" are now
expelled. Says Than Tun: "If there had been a secret vote, a lot of others
would have supported us. They know that if we go on like this the party
will whither away." Suu Kyi is dismissive of him: "We expelled Than Tun
because he was trying to create factions within the party." 

But he was not alone. Three months ago he and two other MP-elects, Kyi Win,
51, and Tin Tun Maung, 55, openly called for lower-level talks with the
regime that excluded Suu Kyi. These are not whacko, fringe members of the
party, nor are they men prone to buckle under coercion. Kyi Win is a former
student leader from the 1970s who has spent years in jail for his political
activities. Tin Tun Maung was a central committee member who acted as
master of ceremonies at last year's party congress marking the 10th
anniversary of the May 1990 election victory. Both, like Than Tun, are
party veterans from 1988 who joined up because they believe in the NLD's
democratic cause. But both were shocked by the party hierarchy's decision
last year to form a committee representing parliament. They knew it would
inflame the regime -- which, by allowing the party congress, had begun to
show signs of conciliation. They were right. The trio, like hundreds of
other NLD members, were detained in a countrywide sweep. 

>From custody, they sent a letter to party chairman Aung Shwe and regime
leader Khin Nyunt urging both sides to cooperate for the good of the
country. The letter was signed by 27 MPs-elect, though five later withdrew
their names -- implying they were coerced into signing. Suu Kyi and the
mainstream leadership were outraged by this initiative. Tin Tun Maung and
his group, in language reminiscent of the state-run New Light of Myanmar,
were berated as "lackeys" and "axe-handles" of the regime. Says Suu Kyi:
"If you want to put suggestions to the NLD as loyal members, you don't
address one copy to Khin Nyunt." Tin Tun Maung counters that all they were
trying to do was reach out to both the regime and the party to try to break
the deadlock. The upshot was that another four MPs-elect, including Tin Tun
Maung and Kyi Win, were suspended. 

Suu Kyi says this group just represents "a few people who are working with
the authorities." Tin Tun Maung bristles, recalling the long years he has
toiled for the party. "She has no objective answer to our letter, just
calling us traitors. But none of us likes the military government -- yet it
is getting stronger every day. At the moment we are going nowhere and we
are getting fed up." They again claim that if a secret vote were taken,
many members would support them. 

Whether due to cracking under the undeniably appalling pressure exerted by
the military, or just tiring of Suu Kyi's firm -- some would say imperious
-- leadership, there is no doubt the NLD is floundering. But the party has
no alternative to Suu Kyi's class act in not only keeping the party alive
but consistently in the world's eye. Indeed, without her the NLD would fall
apart. The question on many lips now is whether it is going to fall apart
even with her.


10 July, 1999 by Rajan Moses 

YANGON, July 10 (Reuters) - Myanmar's ruling military has yet to respond to
an offer by the main opposition party to begin a low-level dialogue, an
opposition leader said. 

Tin Oo, vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, told Reuters
the military had said talks between the ruling State Peace and Development
Council and the opposition should start at a low level. 

"We agree to that, but they haven't given us any response yet," he said in
an interview. 

The government has insisted as a pre-condition to talks that the opposition
renounce a committee it established to represent a parliament elected in
Myanmar's last election. 

The NLD won the 1990 poll, but the military ignored the result. 

Asked if the committee would be dissolved to pave the way for dialogue, Tin
Oo said: "No, it was formed to work for dialogue, so we can't dissolve it." 

He also said that NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi would have to be included
once talks reached a summit level. 

The generals have long refused to talk with Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace
laureate who has been their most formidable opponent since emerging as a
dissident leader at the height of a pro-democracy uprising crushed by
troops in 1988. 

Tin Oo said the political situation remained in a stalemate but an eventual
dialogue involving the government, the opposition and ethnic minority
groups was inevitable. "There will be a dialogue -- nobody can avoid it,"
he said. "It is the solution. 

"We are very optimistic about getting back our (democratic) legitimacy with
the coming of the 21st century; we are not just waiting idly. The people
are also very much in need of a great change." 

Tin Oo said the visit by a fact-finding delegation from the European Union
last week was a positive step. 

"They came to listen, to hear, and assess, but didn't offer anything or
come back with new initiatives. No substance has come out yet, but we
welcome this kind of movement." 

However, he said chances of former South African president Nelson Mandela
acting as a mediator in Myanmar appeared remote. 

"The Mandela proposal has faded away," he said. "But as long as somebody
proposes something for reconciliation, we would welcome it." 

Foreign Minister Win Aung poured cold-water over the idea of foreign
mediation when he told Reuters on Thursday Myanmar could solve its own
problems. He said Myanmar had received no mediation offer from Mandela. 

A South African diplomat told Reuters last month Mandela would consider
mediation if formally asked by the opposition. 

Tin Oo said the military continued to detain hundreds of NLD members,
including at least 60 who won seats in the election. 

He rejected government allegations that the NLD backed the Karen National
Union, an insurgent group that has fought for decades for greater autonomy
from Yangon. 

"We don't support the KNU -- we are sympathetic to them only," he said. "We
don't give any physical support to them; only moral support. Their demands
also should be solved at the table." 


13 July, 1999 


BANGKOK - The 80-year-old widow of the late chairman of the Burmese
Communist Party has been pardoned and released from prison, Burma's
military government announced yesterday.

Kyi Kyi, the widow of Thakin Zin, was sentenced in November 1989 to 20
years imprisonment under internal security provisions, said a brief
announcement from the government spokesman.

The announcement said Kyi Kyi was pardoned and released on Sunday "out of
consideration of her age."

Her husband, Thakin Zin, was a veteran Communist leader who became party
chairman in 1968 -- when the group was conducting an armed rebellion -- and
was killed by government troops in 1975. The party broke up in 1989 due to
internal dissension and government pressure.


June, 1999 

Vol7 No5

It has been confirmed that Khin Than, head of the research department of
the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) surrendered to Burmese
military authorities in late March. Rumors that he had been abducted by the
SPDC proved to be incorrect, as reliable eyewitnesses reported that they
saw Khin Than boarding a vehicle with official Burmese license plates on
the day of his disappearance from the Thai border town of Mae Sot. 

Khin Than was regarded as the best informed member of the ABSDF's
intelligence wing, with extensive knowledge of operations being carried out
by the ABSDF and other opposition groups on the Thai-Burma border. His
defection raised concerns amongst Burmese dissidents about how the SPDC
might use sensitive information to undermine its opponents' activities.

A staunch supporter of Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP)
government prior to the 1988 uprisings, Khin Than later joined the 8-8-88
pro-democracy movement and like many other activists fled to the border
area following the military's crackdown on opponents. He later became a
senior member of the ABSDF and head of the research department.


16 July, 1999 by Roger Mitton 


This week is portentous for Myanmar. A visiting four-member European Union
team has been speaking to the leaders of both the military regime and the
National League for Democracy. Previously, the E.U. refused to sit in the
same room as the generals. Now, a breakthrough glimmers following a brave
concession by the embattled NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi that she would not
veto "lower-level" talks with the regime which exclude her. If the E.U.
builds on this by offering incentives to the ruling junta in return for
political reform, then progress may be possible. Whatever happens may
largely depend on one person -- not Suu Kyi, not the E.U. president or any
other Western leader, but Senior Gen. Than Shwe. 

For seven years, he has been head of Myanmar's ruling State Peace &
Development Council, prime minister, defense minister and
commander-in-chief. But because Than Shwe maintains a relatively low
profile, and because his generals boast of a "rule by consensus," there is
confusion about who is really in charge. Some say strategist Lt.-Gen. Khin
Nyunt, because of his longevity and prominence among the ruling clique,
though, formally, he ranks only third. Above him, at No. 2, is the tough
army boss, Gen. Maung Aye, with whom Khin Nyunt is said to clash -- though
this seems a diversionary myth that amuses rather than upsets the generals.
Says Suu Kyi: "One is not quite sure who is actually the dominant leader of
the regime." But the thinking now in Yangon is that Than Shwe is
increasingly calling the shots. 

A senior Yangon-based diplomat who often meets the junta leader says: "Than
Shwe is on top of everything, very shrewd, not this perceived nice-guy
balancer between Khin Nyunt's pragmatists and Maung Aye's conservatives,
but a real power in his own right." In Myanmar, little is ever certain.
Than Shwe, 66, cuts a deceptively benign figure and is often jokingly
referred to as a "strong man" because he has fathered eight kids. He is
strong in other respects too. Says Forestry Minister Aung Phone: "Than Shwe
will point at us and ask, 'What have you done today?' You better be able to
tell him. Even figures. I have to plead 'tomorrow' -- he wants so much
detail." Adds the diplomat: "Than Shwe is more substantive than most people
give him credit for. He speaks English well now. In group discussions with
foreign leaders, he does not need to rely on aides or to refer to Khin
Nyunt or others. This is a man in charge." 

And a man of fairly simple tastes. Portly, golf-playing Than Shwe lives
with his family in a modest house behind a blue metal gate. In the past, he
was said to be too tolerant and this led to rampant corruption among fellow
officers. But he finally cracked the whip and sacked a slew of ministers in
November 1997. Says minister Brig.-Gen. Maung Maung: "When he is firm, he
is very firm. But he treats us all as younger brothers. He's very
reasonable." The Europeans -- and everyone else -- will be banking on that.


12 July, 1999 

YANGON (July 12) XINHUA - Myanmar's young-aged population between 15 and 24
is estimated to have reached over 9 million, accounting for 18.75 percent
of the total of over 48 million people registered now, according to an
official forecast released here Sunday. 

People of the age of 60 and above account for over 3.8 million or 7.9
percent, it said. 

The population of Myanmar is growing at about 2 percent or about 800, 000
people annually. 

"With this population growth rate, Myanmar's population will exceed 67.9
million by the year 2020," it estimated. 

In general, Myanmar has a fair ratio between the nation's present
population and its area if facts such as the nation's area, population
density and population separation are studied, it stated. 

Myanmar has a total land area of 677,000 square-kilometers (sq-km) and its
population density is at 70 persons per sq-km. 

Myanmar's life expectancy is rising and infant mortality and mortality rate
of children under one year and the entire nation's mortality rate are
decreasing as a result of the effective implementation of the public health
programs, healthcare plans and birth spacing projects, it pointed out,
adding that the country's population is thus growing steadily year after

The country's population grew from only 16 million in 1941 to 35.3 million
in 1983 when the latest census was taken, indicating that the population
has doubled in 42 years. 

Myanmar, being a U.N. member, observed Sunday the World Population Day
1999, the 10th observance of such day since 1990. 

The U.N. Population Fund designated July 11, 1988, as the World Population
Day when the earth's population then reached 5 billion, and it has also
announced that the global population will reach 6 billion on October 12, 1999.


June, 1999

Ka Hsaw Wa, a founding member of EarthRights International, spoke to the
Irrawaddy recently about receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award and the
Goldman Environmental Prize. 

Like Dr. Cynthia, Ka Hsaw Wa, 28, fled to the Thai-Burma border after
participating in the mass protests of 1988. He was only 18 at the time. 

Although he is Karen, Ka Hsaw Wa did not join the Karen National Union
because he did not believe in armed struggle. Instead, he began collecting
information about human rights abuses and forced labor. In a recent
interview with the Irrawaddy, he said that "At that time, I had only a pen
to write down their stories." 

He later realized how intimately these abuses were connected to the
exploitation of natural resources. Much of his work has focused on
documenting human rights and environmental abuses associated with the
Yadana gas pipeline the largest foreign investment in Burma. The pipeline
project involves a consortium of transnational corporations, including
US-based Unocal and Total of France, whose investment in the strife-torn
area is being protected by the Burmese army. The pipeline traverses the
Tenasserim rainforest, inhabited by diverse ethnic peoples and home to the
tiger, the Asian elephant, the rhinoceros and many other rare and
endangered species. 

Ka Hsaw Wa's work in documenting the human and environmental cost of
large-scale investment in Burma has begun to win growing recognition. This
year he received two international awards -- the Reebok Human Rights Award
and the Goldman Environmental Prize for his part in alerting the world of
the atrocities committed by the Burmese regime and its business partners.

Ka Hsaw Wa admitted that he was surprised to receive the Reebok award and a
little wary of receiving an award from a multi-national corporation.  

In his acceptance speech for the Goldman Award, he described how "hundreds
of men, women, and children have been forced to work on the pipeline and
for the military. They are forced to work, forced to carry ammunition,
forced to grow food. Women have been raped. Many have been killed. The
president of Unocal, John Imle, knows what is happening. He said this under

He added: "By destroying our forests, our tree, our wild animals, and our
river, the Burmese dictatorship and its partners in crime also destroy who
we are. Even though they have the money, guns and power, we have truth and
justice on our side to defend human rights and the environment."

Currently, EarthRights International, an organization founded by Ka Hsaw Wa
and a team of lawyers, is having some success in its efforts to hold Unocal
accountable for its complicity in human rights abuses. A precedent-setting
case against Unocal has been filed in a US court on behalf of fourteen
Burmese defendants, marking the first time that transnational corporations
and their executive officers have been held legally accountable for
violations of international human rights law in foreign countries.

When asked how things have changed since the awards, Ka Hsaw Wa responded
that having international recognition makes certain aspects of his job a
bit easier, but there are still many challenges ahead.


10 July, 1999 

YANGON (July 11) XINHUA - Myanmar Foreign Minister U Win Aung will pay
official visits to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh later this month to strengthen
bilateral ties with the South Asian countries. 

U Win Aung will visit Sri Lanka on July 14-16 and Bangladesh on July 17-19,
according to an official announcement here Sunday. 

U Win Aung's trip to South Asia comes after his tour of all 10 Southeast
Asian nations except Cambodia during the first half of this year. 

In January 1996, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar came to
Yangon for a visit, during which an agreement on the establishment of a
Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation was signed between the two

There was only a one-million-dollar investment project of Sri Lanka in
Myanmar by the end of February. Sri Lanka has had some imports from Myanmar
in the past few years, but its exports to Myanmar were none, according to
official statistics. 

In April 1998, former Myanmar foreign minister U Ohn Gyaw visited Dhaka and
discussions were made on repatriation of Myanmar refugees from Bangladesh,
border trade and cooperation in joint ventures. 

Later in November that year, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad
visited Yangon, during which an agreement on the inland boundary of the
northern part of the Naaf River was signed. The Myanmar-Bangladesh boundary
is made up of the Naaf River part and the inland part. 

The two countries initiated formal border trade at Maungtaw (Myanmar)-
Teknaf (Bangladesh) trade point in September 1995. Their bilateral trade
stands at about 8 million U.S. dollars annually. 

Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all members of the BIMST-EC, a
sub-regional economic grouping formed in June 1997 by Bangladesh, India,
Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand bordering the Bay of Bengal.


12 July, 1999 

BOSTON, July 12 (Reuters) - The Massachusetts state attorney general said
on Monday he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a state law that
restricts purchases from companies that do business with Myanmar.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston struck down the law
on constitutional grounds in June.

The Burma law, as it is known, was enacted in 1996 in response to charges
that the Myanmar military government was guilty of widespread human rights

The law directs state officials to publish a list of companies doing
business with Myanmar and restricts the ability of those firms to sell
goods and services to Massachusetts.

``The law is about working for basic human rights and it's about a state's
right to chose who it does business with,'' Massachusetts Attorney General
Thom Reilly said in a statement. ``We believe the Constitution allows the
state to apply a broad and principled standard to buying goods and services.''

New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are among 20 municipalities that
have similar laws.

The appeals court decision was issued in a lawsuit filed by the National
Foreign Trade Council, a Washington, DC-based lobbying group that
represents U.S. businesses.

The measure has also been the subject of debate by the European Commission
and Japan which have threatened World Trade Organisation action.

Labour unions, nine other U.S. states and some 26 members of Congress have
all supported the Massachusetts law in previous court actions.